The Strong Program in cultural sociology

Meaning first

Authored by: Jeffrey C. Alexander , Philip Smith

Routledge Handbook of Cultural Sociology

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138288621
eBook ISBN: 9781315267784
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter provides a concise overview of the Strong Program in cultural sociology. It discusses origins in a small group in Los Angeles in the 1980s and documents an influential, productive, globally distributed paradigm today. The Strong Program is described as a collective, cumulative project with a capacity for self-critique leading to theoretical progress. Taken as a whole, this intellectual movement argues forcefully and unapologetically for a “cultural sociology” where explanation is meaning centered. The Strong Program has developed a series of mid-range theoretical tools for unpacking cultural structures and explaining how meaning can bring about social outcomes. These are briefly reviewed. Early innovations included giving centrality to civil society and the mass media and theorizing the relationships between binary opposition, narrative, and social drama. More recent work has looked at performance and power, the iconic, and cultural trauma. Although early work was polemical, a recent trend has been to blend the Strong Program with other approaches such as those of Bourdieu or Weber. The chapter ends by reviewing common lines of critique.

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